It's nearly 40 degrees with the humidity, but Charlie the four-year-old French bulldog doesn't seem fazed. At Toronto's Cherry Beach, he plops his wet, stubby body in the sand and looks up expectantly at his owner, Christina Fontura, hoping she'll throw his stick into Lake Ontario just one more time.
Charlie may be an Internet celebrity – a video of him hijacking a sled from a boy got more than 500,000 views about two years ago – but at the beach, he's just one of a pack of habitués who go for a splash when it gets blisteringly hot. In fact, swimming is the only real exercise the 27-pound dog can safely get.
"Charlie basically can't be walked much at all in the summer," says Ms. Fontura, a professional house flipper. "French bulldogs aren't very good at keeping themselves cool."
Much of Canada is experiencing record-breaking temperatures this summer, with the heat and humidity proving to be a health risk for dogs. While irresponsible owners and hot cars caused a rash of highly publicized dog deaths in Toronto and the United States, most pet owners have been doing whatever it takes to keep their dogs safe.
Humans lower their body temperature by sweating, but dogs take rapid, shallow breaths to encourage evaporation on their tongues, which contain a rich supply of blood vessels. Compared to many other mammals, it's not a very efficient cooling system, says Bernhard Pukay.
"There's that saying – only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun," says the Ottawa-based veterinarian.
"If it's too hot for you, it's too hot for your dog," says Nat Lauzon, the founder of MontrealDogBlog.com. "Even with the window cracked, a dog trapped in a car can get heat stroke in under 10 minutes."
Ms. Lauzon, a blogger and radio announcer, keeps her two Chihuahuas chilled by walking them in the early mornings and evenings, when temperatures are lowest and the pavement is less likely to burn sensitive paw pads. She also stocks her freezer with Flea and Chachi's favourite icy treats, like nylabones smeared with baby food, chicken broth ice cubes and rope toys soaked in broth and peanut butter.
"It cools them down and gives them an activity to keep them busy at the same time," she says.
Ottawa photographer Liz Bradley's three small dogs, Paddington, Corduroy and Wellington – who are various combinations of Yorkie, Maltese and Shih Tzu – love to snack on little pieces of watermelon and cucumber. "I worry that they aren't drinking enough, so it's really good to give them treats with a high water content," Ms. Bradley says.
Stockbroker Don Watt's late dog Ben, a Dalmatian who recently passed away at age 14, was crazy for vanilla kiddie cones from the ice-cream truck that patrols their east-end Toronto neighbourhood every summer. "One spring day when he was getting quite old, we heard the truck playing its little song for the first time that year," Mr. Watt says. "Ben immediately woke up from a deep sleep and made this little sighing sound, like 'Ohhhhh!' "
The Watt family continues the ice-cream tradition with Lily, their 18-month-old Lab-Dalmatian mix, who also keeps cool with frequent dips at the beach. She's a natural swimmer, but even stubby-legged or water-shy dogs can learn to paddle along with the best of them.
Kelly Turnbull of Fit Dogs in Toronto, an exercise and grooming business with a year-round indoor pool, says hesitant clients can learn to swim within three or four sessions with a trainer and plenty of treats for encouragement. "We have an English bulldog who's absolutely crazy for swimming," she says.
Some owners have their fluffy-coated dogs shaved in the mistaken belief that lots of hair means lots of heat. But Becky Misener, president of the Ontario Dog Groomers Association, says that's a bad idea. "The hair protects them from sunburn, bug bites and heat stroke," she says. "Double-coated breeds like golden retrievers need to keep their guard coat, because it actually insulates them against the heat."
For the dog who truly has everything, a slew of cooling products have hit the market, with special gel-filled vests and beds vying for shelf space with freezable collars and hydration backpacks. One Hawaiian company is developing the DogEden, a geothermal underground dog house.
But for Dr. Pukay, gimmicky products can't beat common sense. "When it's really hot, keep them in the shade, avoid confined areas, limit their exercise, and give them plenty of water," he says.
Early signs of heat stroke include rapid panting and bright red gums. In more serious cases, the dog stares listlessly, vomits and eventually collapses. If you suspect your dog is getting dangerously overheated, immediately cool him down by pouring water on him, Dr. Pukay advises.
Across Canada, humane societies, police and city staff this year have been inundated with heat-related calls concerning dogs.
Between June 1 and July 11, for example, the City of Calgary Animal and Bylaw Services received 106 calls of dogs in distress in cars. The city's humane society has responded to about 38 heat-related calls.
During the last heat wave alone in Toronto, the Toronto Humane Society says it received 61 calls about dogs.
Then there are the high-profile incidents – a dog death at Vaughan Mills mall, a rescue at Sherway Gardens mall. There was also Parker, the dog who shut down Toronto's busy Gardiner Expressway when he ran through traffic during a rescue attempt.
As for Charlie, the snub-nosed sledding enthusiast, a few close calls means he now confines his summer potty breaks to Ms. Fontura's shady backyard. "You can tell he's getting too hot when his ears turn bright fuchsia and he starts making this terrible sound," she says.
So when he's not at the beach, Charlie resigns himself to lying in his own kiddie pool and meditating. Maybe he's dreaming of snow.